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Harmonic Staying Power

As the Association nears 90 million records sold, its sound is still sweet.

September 01, 2000|BILL LOCEY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

In what has proved to a classic case of gilt by Association, the folk-rock band of that name has sold 70 million or more albums since its 1965 debut. On Sunday afternoon, the members will showcase their trademark six-part harmonies during one of those ever-affordable free concerts at Conejo Community Park in Thousand Oaks.

That's right--six-part harmonies. And too many bands don't even have one decent vocalist.

The Association was a SoCal group that got in at the ground floor of the folk-rock rage, which really took off when the Byrds electrified Bob Dylan songs. Band members practiced and then practiced some more before saturating the area with live shows. Their first successful single to attract a national audience was "Along Comes Mary," which was followed by such familiar hits as "Never My Love" and "Cherish."

The band did all those things that successful '60s bands did, including appearing at the Monterey Pop Festival and on "The Ed Sullivan Show" and "American Bandstand." While most of their contemporaries faded away, the Association has continued to tour the world.

One of the two original members, Russ Giguere, discussed the latest.

So everything is cool for the band and no one has forgotten the words to "Along Comes Mary"?

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday September 2, 2000 Ventura County Edition Metro Part B Page 3 Zones Desk 1 inches; 24 words Type of Material: Correction
Association concert--A story Friday included the wrong date of a free concert planned by the Association. The group will play at 5 p.m. Monday at Conejo Community Park.

Everything is just excellent. We just go around the world and do concerts. Personally, I don't sing the words to "Along Comes Mary." I've always sung background on that one. . . . If someone asked me what the words were, I don't think I could tell you because I've never sung them. I do the "ooo-ooo-bop-doo-wah" stuff.

Seventy-million records? That's a lot.

It's more like somewhere between 70 and 90 million now. Here's the thing: We've become standards. We just happened to be there at the right time and people liked it. Three of the "100 Most Played Songs of All Time" are ours. The second-most-played song of all time is "Never My Love." The 22nd is "Cherish," and the 62nd, I think, is "Windy." The only other people that have more songs than we do are the Beatles, Roy Orbison and Simon & Garfunkel--and that's it.

What was it like being a rock star in those silly '60s?

It was fun. It was always fun, but it's even more fun now. You don't take anything for granted. You get over that. I'm a lot looser and goosier and the shows are a lot more fun. One thing, I'm not worried about being cool anymore.

How would you describe Association music?

At the time, I just thought we were another rock 'n' roll band, but now when I look back, it's this weird sort of art rock 'n' roll. It's very hard to bag it. We definitely did some good ol' rock 'n' roll, and we did some ballads, and some of that other stuff was strictly art. So I can't really classify it.

All right, I have to ask you this: Were the words to "Along Comes Mary" about that pernicious weed?

I would think so. I didn't write that song--it was written by a guy named Tandyn Almer--but I would think so. . . . Even though we had a couple of local singles before that, it was our first national hit. It was a one-of-a-kind song. I love those kinds of songs.

So the band actually had a plan that worked?

Yeah, I'd say we spent five or six months to get everything really honed. By the time we got signed, we had 15,000 or 20,000 on our fan list, and we played L.A. so thoroughly even before we had a record. We worked all the folk clubs like the Icehouse and the Troubador and the Golden Bear down in Huntington Beach. And we did every junior college and even some high schools. We gave ourselves two years to get a top 20 record. And it only took us a year and a half, so we were within our framework.

How did the band happen to become the first rock band to play the Greek Theatre?

Not only were we the first rock 'n' roll band to play at the Greek Theatre, we were the first rock band to play in almost every major venue in the United States. I think that was because we played real serious music. There's some musical value there and some thought behind it, and it's not overly simplified.

Tell me a Monterey Pop Festival story.

We opened the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967. That was great. We were on the road so much that we never got to see anybody else unless they played with us. That was a three-day festival and we stayed all three days and all three nights and saw everybody from the orchestra pit. It was just the coolest. We saw Jimi Hendrix from about 40 feet away, and that was cool. But the best band at the festival was Moby Grape. They were unbelievable. I've never seen a better stage band. Ever.

Tell me an Ed Sullivan story.

That was fun. You'd run it through once for the technical staff, then Ed would come in from his limo for the last two minutes right before the show started. He was real straight but real fun. I think he liked us. He was very fatherly.

How has the music biz changed over the years?

It's much more competitive now. It's gotten gi-gi-gigantic, but we're not involved in all the competitiveness with all those young guys. We are what we are and we do what we do.

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